Tag Archives: sweet

CINNAMON ROLLS

You, like Jill, may be one of those people who is mystified by my love for this:

Yes, that’s right, I am a Von Trapper, a girl who counts Christopher Plummer among her first crushes, who knows every word to every song and squeals unabashedly when the camera first opens onto the Viennese countryside.

I can’t rightly say how many times I have seen “The Sound of Music,” but I do know that every time I go back to it, I discover something new.  Like the first time I was old enough to understand that my beloved Captain Von Trapp wasn’t just a handsome military widower who could sing and dance BUT ALSO a radical who resisted the Anschluss and stood behind his political convictions.

Or the first time I realized I had outgrown any affection for the cheesy gazebo scene (“sixteen going on seventeen”) between Liesl and Rolf in favor of the cheesy gazebo scene (“must have done something good”) between Maria and the Captain.  Or this most recent encounter, in which I decided that there was maybe something to this “favorite things” business after all.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Or my version:

Babies with Afros and top-shelf margaritas
Rothko and Rilke and freshly-made pitas
Baristas who flirt with a glint in their eyes
These are the things that help me get by

So I’m not meant to be a songwriter–the sentiment still holds. Perhaps it’s ridiculous, but I think that conjuring up the memory or thought of things you like best can actually be rather useful.  Or you can actually conjure up some cinnamon rolls in real life.

Your favorites?

CINNAMON ROLLS

Cinnamon rolls from scratch do not a quick breakfast make.  Patience, grasshopper.  They are SO worth it.

For the dough:

1 package yeast
¼ cup warmer-than-your-finger water

Pour the water into a large bowl, then sprinkle the yeast on top with a pinch of sugar.  Let it stand for a few minutes—if it doesn’t foam, try, try again.

Now you’ll need these things:

¼ cup whole milk
2 T butter

Microwave them together for 30 seconds or until the butter is melting and it’s all warm (but not hot).  Toss the warm dairy into the bowl with the yeast, then add the following:

3 ½-4 cups all-purpose flour, added 1 cup at a time
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. salt

I like to hand-mix but you can use a dough hook.  Knead until springy but still soft (you may not use all of the flour).  Don’t over-knead; you want a dough that’s loosely hanging together.

Butter the bowl you were just using & let the dough rise there for at least 1 hour, or until doubled in size (may take 1 ½ hours).

For the filling:

1 cup butter, completely softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 ½ T cinnamon

Whip all of the filling ingredients together with a fork or spoon until fluffy.  Roll the dough out into a large rectangle about ¼-inch thick.  Spread the filling gently atop the dough, going out to the edges on all but one of the long sides.  Leave a ½-inch border along that final edge so you have something to seal the roll with.

Roll the dough up into a log, starting with the edge opposite the border.  When you get to the border, wet the dough a bit, then pull it up and over the log and press down to seal.

Line a jellyroll or spring form pan with parchment (cleanup is a nightmare if you skip this step, trust me).  Using a serrated knife, cut the dough log into inch-thick rolls, placing them swirl side up in the pan.  Don’t space them too closely together, as they will expand.  Cover the pan with a damp towel and let the dough puff up again, about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325˚.  Bake the cinnamon rolls for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

While they’re baking, whip up a simple icing: a whole lot of powdered sugar thinned with a little bit of liquid.  You can use just plain milk or milk  + some kind of flavoring (orange juice, vanilla, almond extract, etc.)

Once the rolls have cooled slightly, drizzle them generously with the icing.

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BROWN SUGAR POUNDCAKE

I’m asking my students to answer an amended version of the Proust Questionnaire this week.  And I swear I can hear their brains working as they write.

brown sugar poundcake side view

Used by Vanity Fair magazine since 1993 as a “back page” feature, the Proust Questionnaire is so named because the famous French author believed that answering this set of questions revealed one’s true nature.

My eighth graders are at a particularly pointed place in their development and understanding of themselves; not kids anymore but not quite adults, they strain against the limits of what they know and what they want, what they are allowed to have versus what they feel, deeply.  Everything is changing for them all of the time, and there’s little they can control.

Hence the questionnaire.  This deep and difficult set of questions forces the respondent to become very clear about who they are and what they want.  While it seems like it should be easy—I should be an expert on the topic of myself, right?—for me and my students, these questions have forced us to think about who we are and who we want to be.

In answering these questions along with my kids, I’m disturbed a bit by how easy it is to forget that there is no one fixed way for me, Nishta Jaya Mehra, to be in the world.  I act as if “this is how I am” but my being wasn’t set by my birth; it’s constantly in flux, and I am in the one in control of that, even though it often feels like the circumstances are.

At once empowering and totally scary, this week in my class we are taking on the idea that we get to say who we are.  We get to change ourselves, experiment with our expression, make mistakes and clean them up.  We put ourselves out there in the world and hope for the best.

If the best hasn’t come your way this week, might I suggest a poundcake?  Because while who I am is changing all of the time, my love for butter will never, ever die.

butter makes it better

BROWN-SUGAR POUNDCAKE

This recipe makes a LOT of batter; it filled not only my mom’s big ole bundt pan but also a few little mini-loaf pans on the side.  I’ll be you could halve this pretty easily, but the thing is—this cake is delicious.  You could freeze it, give it away, or just, you know, eat it.  I think it would be especially darling baked into wee little cupcakes or muffins!)

I made a very simple glaze of powdered sugar, milk, & vanilla, but the recipe came with a fancier glaze idea, which I’ve included below.  Haven’t tried it yet, so please let me know if ya’ll do.

ingredients: brown sugar pound cake top view

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup milk
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
1 one-pound box dark brown sugar (about 2 ¾ cups)
½ cup white sugar
5 eggs

oven: 325°
pan: original recipe calls for greasing & flouring a 10-inch tube pan or two 9 X 5-inch loaf pans, but I’m skeptical that all of this batter would fit into those configurations.  I recommend having some extra pans on hand!

Whisk the dry ingredients with a fork.  Combine the vanilla & milk in a separate bowl & set aside.

Beat the butter on its own until light and fluffy.  Add the brown sugar in three batches, then the white sugar all at once.  Scrape down the bowl & continue to beat well, adding the eggs one at a time.

You know what’s coming!  Alternately add the dry mixture (flour, etc.) and the wet ingredients (milk & vanilla) in several batches, starting & ending with the dry.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake.  Time will vary widely depending on the shape/size of your pans.  Cupcakes/muffins will take between 25-30 minutes, the loaf pans, 45-50.  My bundt baked for over an hour, until the cake tester revealed nice, moist crumbs on the inside.

Cool the cakes on a wire rack, giving larger cakes a generous amount of time.  Turn the cakes out and eat/glaze/wrap up.

QUICK CARAMEL GLAZE

½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup light-brown sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the evaporated milk and let the icing come to a gentle boil.  Stir well.

Remove from heat, then add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla.  Beat well, by hand or with a mixer, for a few minutes until the glaze thickens and looses some sheen.

Pour immediately over the cake or the glaze will harden.

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SOUR CREAM PANCAKES

There’s a magnet on my fridge that says “Eat one.  Eat five.  Eat as many darn pancakes as you want.”

pancakes & strawberries

Can I get an “amen?”

My dad used to make me pancakes on weekend mornings; they belong on a very short list of things he could make better than my mama.  He had the patience for pancakes, never rushing them to be turned, never over-browning them the way I do at times in my eagerness to build up a stack.

Until I sat down to write this blog, I hadn’t consciously connected my own pancake-making habits with the tradition my dad started.  There’s often a “bigger” breakfast made in the Blue Jean Kitchen over the weekend, simply because we have the time.  But more often than not, pancakes are what hit the table.

Normally, I just do a “throw the right stuff in a bowl and get it to the right consistency” kind of gig, but when I saw this recipe in Cook Book Club feature of the March 2009 issue of Gourmet, I knew I’d have to put it in the pancake rotation.  And Lorrrrd am I glad that I did!

This recipe is so easy to make (you can use the blender! come on now!) and yields light, airy, tangy pancakes.  Sour cream may seem like a strange ingredient, but trust me on this one: perfect if you have some leftover from garnishing quesadillas or topping baked potatoes.  Last time, I didn’t have quite enough, so I stretched the sour cream a bit by adding plain yogurt, and the pancakes still turned out beautifully.

If you’re craving breakfast but pancakes aren’t your gig, we’ve got a few other things to offer.  Might I suggest having breakfast for dinner tonight?  I know my dad would approve.

sunday morning

BRIDGE CREEK HEAVENLY HOTS
Adapted, slightly, from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

The original recipe suggests making silver-dollar sized pancakes, which are fun and adorable but can also be a pain in the ass.  Don’t worry, these taste good at any size.

3 eggs
¼ cup + 2 T cake flour*
2 cups sour cream
3 T sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

2-3 T butter, melted

Preheat the oven to “warm” so you can store the pancakes while working through several batches.

Simplicity at its finest: whisk the eggs by hand, then add the rest of the ingredients and blend well.

(You can also just dump everything into the blender and press a button.  Very convenient if you’re only half-awake.)

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a tiny saucepan on the stove.  Heat a griddle or frying pan on medium-high heat, then brush with melted butter to grease the surface.

Using a spoon or small measuring cup, spread batter onto the surface, either for one larger pancake or two smaller ones.  When the top of the pancake(s) are full of bubbles, flip and cook them briefly on the other side.

Repeat until the batter is all gone.  Serve with maple syrup, powdered sugar, fresh fruit, you know, they’ll pretty much taste good any way you serve ‘em.

*If you don’t keep cake flour on hand, you can make your own with all-purpose flour & cornstarch.  Place 2 T of cornstarch in the bottom of a one-cup measure.  Fill the rest of the way with all-purpose flour, then sift the mixture several times to aerate.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: ICE CREAM PIE

This is totally one of those blog posts I would read & think “Come on!  Does she really think this counts as a recipe?  Who are we kidding here?”

I know.  It isn’t a recipe, more like a great idea.  Everyone loves ice cream, but scooping sundaes for a crowd can be kind-of a pain.  Instead, take good-quality ice cream (perhaps some you just made yourself?), soften it a bit, mix in nuts or chocolate or fruit or candy, spread that into the cookie shell you just made, and freeze the whole thing up.

ice cream pie

An hour later, you’ve got a simple, satisfying, & adaptable dessert, perfect for this hot, hot August.

Since this is sort of a slacker blog post, I’m going to throw in a little something extra here: our first Blue Jean Gourmet Mix.  Hope you enjoy these summer kitchen tunes as much as we do.

ICE CREAM PIE

The possibilities are really quite endless here; you can tailor to a sophisticated, adult palate, a gooier, kid-friendly palate, or somewhere in-between:

a)    chocolate cookie crust, chocolate ice cream, peppermint candies
b)    gingersnap crust, vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit
c)    vanilla wafer crust, banana ice cream, peanut butter cups
d)    graham cracker crust, Neapolitan ice cream, mini marshmallows

For this pie, I made an Oreo crust, coffee ice cream, & mixed in toasted almonds & chunks of semi-sweet chocolate.  To top it all off, homemade whipped cream & a few chocolate-covered espresso beans.  There were several “Whoah, I don’t know if I can finish this” remarks followed by clean plates.

To make the crust, I used a food processor to make crumbs of the Oreos & a few tablespoons of butter, then pressed the crumbs into a pie pan.  The whole thing went into the freezer for a while before I added in the ice cream filling.

Once you’ve filled the pie, be sure to cover it well to prevent freezer burn.  Take out at least 5 minutes before you’re planning to serve, so it can thaw a little, making your life easier when it comes time to cut wedges.

LATE SUMMER KITCHEN MIX (turntable links to iTunes)

1_turntable

We Used to Be Friends – The Dandy Warhols
Spiralling – Keane
We’re an American Band – Grand Funk Railroad
Rosanna – Toto
Believe in Me – Emily White
Woodstock – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
Girls in Their Summer Clothes – Bruce Springsteen
Manhattan – Kings of Leon
Mr. Brownstone – Guns N’ Roses
Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
No You Girls – Franz Ferdinand
Freeway of Love – Aretha Franklin
Wouldn’t It Be Nice – The Beach Boys
Miss Ferguson – Cory Branan
Abigail – Courtney Robbins
Cheated Hearts – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Overweight – Blue October
14th Street – Rufus Wainwright

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CHEWY AMARETTI COOKIES

Sometimes, a little fuss is in order.

amaretti cookies

Though our general philosophy here at Blue Jean Gourmet is that food does not need to be fussy to be delicious, there are occasions (and recipes and people) for which a little fuss is not such a bad thing.  If you are making the fuss for a reason, it ceases to be fuss and starts to be care or love or desire or enthusiasm.  And those are all good things.

Last week, Jill met my extended family for the first time.  They’re not technically my family, as we’re not related by blood, but the aunties and uncles I grew up with in Memphis are mine, and I am theirs.  They’re all brave immigrants, like my parents, who came to this country from India and somehow figured out how to raise children (sassy, first-generation children) in a completely foreign land.

As you can imagine, the whole l-e-s-b-i-a-n thing has been sort of a hard road for all of us; hard enough, and then really just not on the radar in the Indian community at all.  But since my father died three years ago, things have shifted.  I’m older; Jill and I have been together longer.  My mother, in her generosity and determination to build a great adult relationship with me, has met me more than halfway.  And my community has followed.

We had what my friends and I jokingly called a “sip and see,” usually thrown in the South when a baby is born and everyone comes to inspect him/her and drink punch.  Instead of a baby, we had (a very nervous) Jill.  And instead of punch, we had sparkling shiraz, fruit sodas, cheese & crackers, spinach dip, fruit, homemade chocolate-covered strawberries, and these cookies.

These amaretti, unlike the also delicious but crunchy kind you may be used to, are light, airy, and almost evaporate in your mouth when served plain.  An equally good but richer option is to “glue” them together with some jam or melted chocolate.

In case you were wondering, Jill was charming and gracious, as she always is.  I think my aunties and uncles saw at least a sliver of what I see in her, and they were gracious and lovingly inquisitive back.  When I closed the door after our last guest, I found myself moved to tears because two parts of my life had finally come together, parts I long thought would always be separate.  Certainly an occasion worth making a little fuss over.

CHEWY AMARETTI COOKIES
adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 2009

ingredients:

7 oz. almond paste (not marzipan)
1 cup sugar
2 large egg whites, at room temperature for 30 minutes
¼ cup almonds, toasted

oven: 300°
pan: baking sheet
special equipment: food processor, parchment paper & a pastry bag (or just use a large Ziploc bag instead, like me)

Line the baking sheets with parchment paper; please don’t try to substitute anything else as it won’t work and you’ll regret it, I promise.

Pulse the almond paste with the sugar in your food processor until it has broken up & looks crumbly; add almonds & egg whites and process until the mixture is smooth.

Pile the mixture into your pastry bag or Ziploc bag; if the latter, cut off one corner of the bag and squeeze rounds onto the parchment.  Cookies work best if they are less than an inch round; place them just as far apart on the sheets.

amaretti on parchment

Bake until the cookies are golden & puffed, about 15 minutes.  Cool on a rack, then peel off of the parchment.

optional: Sandwich the cookies together, two at a time, using any number of fillings; melted chocolate, raspberry or strawberry jam, Nutella, etc.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES–BERRY-CHAMPAGNE GRANITA

***[DISCLAIMER--I think I'm breaking my poor photographer Sonya's heart by posting today; the images below are sadly but dull replicas of the original, glorious shots for this post.  Has anyone else had a problem with images looking bright in i-photo but then looking dull when uploaded to WordPress?  We are researching the problem & hope to be able to fix it soon.  In the meantime, if any of you can help, please let us know!  And I promise the recipe will still taste good even if the pictures don't do Sonya (or the granita) justice.]***

I know “granita” sounds like a type of dog that widowed Italian heiresses carry around in their Prada handbags, but it’s actually just flavored, shaved ice—think a subtler version of those snow cones you grew up loving in the summer.

And when you throw in some champagne, like I did, granita becomes a very grownup snow cone.

granita

What’s so great about granita is that

a) there are about a million different flavor combinations you can make
b) it’s almost impossible to mess up
c) you can make granita ahead of time
d) no fancy equipment require; just a baking pan & a fork.

The basic formula is to combine fruit with other flavors and freeze the whole mixture in a flat pan, popping in the freezer every hour or so to scrape it the granita with a fork every thirty minutes or so, creating fluffy crystals of goodness.

scraping granita

While the recipe below is pretty tasty, feel free to use it as a baseline for your own inspired granita ideas—Smitten Kitchen recently posted a lemon granita, for example, and John over at The Alphabet Cook has a recipe for traditional espresso granita.

Sonya, our badass Blue Jean Gourmet photographer, is a big snow cone fan, so she deserves credit for inspiring this recipe.  As soon as I get back to Houston, I’ll be making her my latest, Peach Margarita Granita, and I bet I can convince her to take a few pictures of the process so I don’t have to keep that recipe to myself.

BERRY-CHAMPAGNE GRANITA
serves 4-6

Simple syrup, one of the ingredients called for here, is a great things to make and keep on standby in the refrigerator.  Often used to sweeten cocktails and sauces, simple syrup gets its name because it’s terribly easy to make.  Just bring equal parts sugar & water to a boil and then simmer for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has thickened a bit.  Cool before using.

ingredients:

1 cup each:

raspberries
strawberries
champagne (if you’d like to make this non-alcoholic, use water or ginger ale)

½ – 2/3  cup simple syrup (adjust according to your palette & the sweetness of the fruit you are using)
a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice

pan: 13 x 9 metal or glass cake pan

Wash the berries, hulling & slicing the strawberries.  Blend both berries together along with the simple syrup, & lemon juice until smooth.  Strain the liquid to remove seeds—this should yield just over 2 cups of liquid.

Stir the champagne into the berry mixture and then pour into the pan.  Stash in the freezer, being careful to lay the pan flat.

After thirty minutes, check the mixture.  You should have a layer of ice crystals on top–using a fork, rake the outer edges in towards the center, then return the pan to the freezer.  Continue to check every thirty minutes for a total of 2 hours.

Once the granita has finished freezing, you can store it in a plastic container in the fridge indefinitely.  Serve it up in a pretty glass or bowl with a dollop of whipped cream, a garnish of fresh fruit, or all by itself.

granita

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BLUEBERRY BOY BAIT

I confess: I have been selfish too long. I have kept these adorable dog pictures all to myself, but fear not! Today I rectify my mistake.

Behold, our Peanut Butter Dog Treat Giveaway winners:

Ares

That’s Ares, Christy‘s sweet puppy!

buster

meet Buster

maple

and Maple!  Both Canadian pups who live with Cheryl of the Backseat Gourmet.

I’m very pleased to report that all three recipient pups very much enjoyed their treats and strongly encourage you to make some for the beloved canine(s) in your life.

Now onto people food! This one could actually easily be part of the Summer Classics Series, because hey? What’s more summery & classic than an baked good with blueberries in it?

The thing is, though, and one of the reasons I LOVE THIS RECIPE is that it tastes just as good with frozen berries. Yup, true story. Especially if you buy lots of blueberries now, when they are cheap & delicious, freeze ‘em yourself, and use them all the winter long for smoothies, jam, & well, this.

blueberry boy squares

It’s got a funny name, too, right? According to Cook’s Country magazine, the original recipe dates back to 1954, when fifteen-year-old Adrienne Powell submitted it to a Pillsbury Baking Contest. She won second place and ostensibly man suitors, since the recipe is named for its effectiveness in capturing teenage boys’ attention.

Dare I suggest that its swoon-inducing effects are not, in fact, limited to the teenage boy variety? I say, whomever you may be trying to bait, this may be the way to do it.

I consider this one of my ”go-to” recipes for when I need to bake something big & comforting on short notice. It’s been handed over to friends who had a baby, friends who lost a baby, a colleague who lost a parent, new neighbors who moved in down the street.

Eat it as breakfast or as dessert, or (my favorite) as an afternoon snack with tea. I guarantee it tastes better than any blueberry muffin you’ve ever had, and so easy to make. Blueberry Boy Bait…getting the job done since 1954.

BLUEBERRY BOY BAIT

If you’re using frozen berries, don’t thaw them first or their color will bleed unappetizingly into the cake.
for the cake: blueberry boy bait & crumbs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 T baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

½ cup blueberries

1 tsp. flour, for the berries

oven: 350°
pan: 13 x 9 inch, greased & floured

Whisk the first 3 ingredients together & set aside. In a mixer bowl, cream the butter & sugars together on high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until just incorporated.

Reduce the speed to medium & alternately add the wet (milk) and dry (flour mixture) ingredients:

a third of the flour mixture
half of the milk
a third of the flour mixture
half of the milk
last third of the flour mixture

Don’t worry about exact amounts, the point is to alternate, producing a much smoother batter than if you added everything at once.

Toss the blueberries with the teaspoon of flour before folding them into the batter—this will help keep them from all sinking to the bottom of the cake. Spread the batter into baking pan.

for the topping:cinnamon sugar

½ cup blueberries

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp. cinnamon (I often use a whole teaspoon because I am a cinnamon freak)

Scatter the blueberries on top of the batter. Combine the cinnamon & sugar and sprinkle that on top of everything else. Inhale. Mmm, cinnamon sugar. Smells good now, will smell even BETTER during & after baking. Get excited.

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake, approximately 45-55 minutes. Cool in the pan before serving up the thick squares. Stores well in an airtight container for the better part of a week!

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BLACKBERRY UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

I am a sucker for road-side produce.  You know, you’re driving along (especially this time of year), and suddenly you see a spray-painted piece of particle board, declaring “FRESH PICKED CORN” or “STRAWBERRIES” or “OKRA.”

blackberries in a bowl

Or, you know, “BLACKBERRIES.”  When I drove to San Antonio from Houston a few weeks ago, to visit my dear friend Arianne (of key-lime-pie loving fame), I stopped about 45 minutes outside of town to buy some insanely good peaches and these ripe, Rubenesque blackberries.

What I love about this cake is the way that it works equally well for dessert as it does for breakfast. Throw it in the oven at the start of dinner, and it will be warm and ready to serve by the time your meal is finished. Bake it Sunday night, set it next to the office coffee pot, and endear yourself to all of your coworkers on an otherwise grumpy Monday morning. It would also make a lovely housewarming gift, hey-you-just-had-a-baby offering, or potluck contribution.

Frankly, I think this cake is the main reason my friend John puts up with our old, incontinent dog for whom he and his wife Courtney (an important BJG taste-tester/inspiration/dish-washer) often dog-sit.  It may actually be the only reason he puts up with me, come to think of it.

The finished cake will keep, wrapped well in saran wrap & foil and refrigerated, for about a week.  But if John is any indication, there’s no way it’s going to last half that long.

blackberry upside-down cake

Special equipment & ingredients:

• A kitchen mixer is most helpful but not required—if you do try it by hand, make certain your butter is extra soft.
Parchment paper is one of the greatest inventions known to man, and well worth the $2.50 investment. Find it on the same aisle as Saran Wrap.
• If you grew up in the south like me, you are already familiar with the wonders buttermilk can do in pancakes, biscuits, waffles, & cornbread.  If you’ve never cooked with buttermilk before, I urge you to try it this time–a small bottle will run you less than $1.  If you must substitute, stir a bit of lemon juice into some regular milk & let it sit for a few minutes before using.

BLACKBERRY UPSIDE DOWN (AND RIGHT-SIDE-UP) CAKE
adapted from Gourmet Magazine’s “Everyday Meals”

pan: 8-inch round

oven: 400 degrees F

goes nicely with: a scoop of vanilla ice cream, homemade whipped cream*

ingredients:

2 cups fresh blackberries (use an extra ½ cup if you like lots of fruit) sugar-coated blackerries in pan

½  cup sugar, plus 2 Tablespoons extra for sprinkling

1 cup all-purpose flour

½  tsp. baking soda, NOT powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ stick unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup buttermilk (shake it before you pour!)

Use the bottom of your cake pan to trace two 9-inch circles on parchment paper. Cut out the circles and place them inside the pan (use a little butter if they won’t stay put). Lightly butter the sides of the pan and the top circle of parchment. Spoon in a bit of flour and shake to coat the pan.

Rinse & dry the berries.  Pour them into the cake pan; try to get them to fit in just one layer. If you’re feeling crafty, go ahead and arrange the berries into pretty concentric circles. If you’ve better things to do with your time, don’t worry, the cake’s still going to taste good! Sprinkle the blackberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar; set pan aside.

For the batter: cream butter & sugar together until light & fluffy (if using a mixer, run on “high” for about two minutes). More gently mix in the egg & vanilla (switch speed to “low”) until the mixture just begins to come together.

Here, a classic baking technique: alternately adding the wet & dry ingredients. So in one measuring cup or bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, & salt. In another cup or bowl, measure out your buttermilk (shake it up first!). Now, you always want to start and finish with the dry ingredients. So your process will go like this:

a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture

Just eyeball the amounts—it doesn’t matter if you exactly halve the buttermilk or not—the important thing is just not to dump it all in at once. Don’t over mix! Stop mixing when the batter has just come together.

Using spatula or large spoon, drop even clumps of batter over the blackberries until they are all hidden. Bake the cake for approximately 30-35 minutes—I recommend you test the cake at minute 25 using a toothpick. You want the toothpick to come out of the center of the cake with a few crumbs clinging to it.

If your cake takes longer than 35 minutes, don’t panic. If the top (which is actually the bottom!) of the cake starts to look a little too brown, just carefully cover it with foil.

Remove cake from the oven and run a butter knife around the inside of the pan. Now you get to flip it! Set a big plate or platter on top of the cake pan. Using pot holders, grab the pan with the plate on top and flip it all in one motion (it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid–you gotta do it fast!)  The cake will release from the pan—peel the parchment rounds off the top and enjoy.

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LEMON SQUARES

If I believed in super-long blog post titles, this one would be “LEMON SQUARES: HOW TO WIN FRIENDS & INFLUENCE PEOPLE.”

lemon squares
For realz.

When I was in graduate school (in the achingly gorgeous desert land of Tucson, Arizona), I had a nonfiction writing workshop once a week.  Every week.  For two years.

Of those Lord-knows-how-many workshops, I estimate that I brought baked goods to class seventy-five percent of the time.  And of those times that I brought baked good to class, lemon squares took up a disproportionately large share.

I became famous for my lemon squares.  Their presence was often (and still is!) requested at workshops, parties, meetings, as presents, etc.  I can’t prove that it’s true, but I believe my lemon squares won me some goodwill with colleagues who might have otherwise written more scathing critiques of my manuscripts or been all-to-eager to shred my narratives to pieces.

Now, you may want to know, what is my lemon square secret?  What mystery ingredient have I conjured to take these humble little shortbread-crust-bottomed, custard-and-powdered-sugar-topped suckers to the next level of deliciousness?

Well, nothing, really.  Mine is a really basic recipe, one that my hands will practically make for me at this point.  There’s nothing particularly magical about them, but they’ve never failed me.  Perhaps it comes down to this: the gesture of baking something from scratch, of feeding others something you took time to make with your own hands, and make well, is magical.  It breeds relatedness and good feeling.  It’s just a kind thing to do.  (Especially in grad school, when everyone’s poor & hungry).

So, even though these are not red, white, & blue; even though they do not utilize the plump berries and sugar-crystalled watermelon of the season, I humbly offer you my lemon square recipe and urge you to bake some up.  Walk a plate over to your neighbors.  Take some to work on Monday (when everyone will be grumpy about having to be back at work on Monday).  Or just add them to the Fourth of July potluck pile and watch them disappear.

ARIZONA LEMON SQUARES lemon squares up close
makes 16 modest or 9 generous squares

oven: Preheat to 350.

pan: 8 inch square (double recipe to fit into larger, rectangular pan)

To make your life easier, line the pan with foil and then spray it well with cooking spray.  You can just spray the pan, but you’ll have to scrub it afterwards.

crust:    1 ½ cup flour

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

¼ cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

I always throw these ingredients straight into the pan and crumble them with my fingers—no need to mess up a bowl!  When you’ve got a pebbly-looking mixture, press down so the crust covers the bottom of the pan and a little bit up the sides.  Smooth down with the bottom of a small glass or bowl, if you like.

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until it’s just getting brown.  While the crust is baking, make the filling.

filling:    2 eggs  sliced lemons
2 lemons*
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

Zest the lemons first (I like a lot of zest, so I use both), then chop the zest finely and set aside.  Juice the lemons next—you’ll may only need one lemon to reach the desired 2 T.  Add juice to zest.  Throw in the rest of the ingredients, adding the eggs last.

Beat everything together either with a whisk or a mixer (I’ve done both, and this is really one recipe where you don’t have to get your Kitchen Aid dirty).  Mix until everything’s frothy and thick, about 3 minutes.

When the hot crust comes out of the oven, pour the filling on top.  Bake another 20-25 minutes or until the top is just turning brown and is set in the middle.  Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then dust with a generous amount of powdered sugar (sometimes I do two passes with the powdered sugar to get a thick layer).

Cool completely, or as long as you can wait before cutting into squares.

* When I can find them, I use Meyer lemons, which make for exquisite lemon squares.  Just dial down the sugar to ¾ or even ½ cup, since Meyer lemons are not as tart.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: KEY LIME PIE

Please forgive me if this post is a bit lacking in wit and zest (get it?  zest?  key lime pie?  ha! I crack myself up)—school is out for summer, my grading is all done, and I’ve been busy celebrating the start of vacation with Arianne, my BFFFL (that’s Best Friend Forever for Life to those of you unfamiliar with 6th grade girl lingo).

So I’m afraid I don’t have a super-clever story to tie in here, just the fact that Arianne really loves my key lime pie.  And key lime pie is a summer classic, so it’s therefore being included in our Summer Classics Series (see how that works?)

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Well, I lied.  I actually do have kind of a cool story to tell you.  As you probably know, sweetened condensed milk is a traditional ingredient in key lime pie.  But what you may not know is how condensed milk came to be.

In 1856, Gail Borden (of Borden’s Eagle Brand) developed the process by which milk could be condensed, and thereby safely stored, in cans for long periods of time.  Until that point, cow’s milk was basically only safe to store for a few hours without cooling or refrigeration.

Mr. Borden was inspired to create a long-term storage method for milk after traveling to the United States on a ship from England; due to the poor quality of milk onboard, several children lost their lives.  The introduction of condensed milk is credited with being an important factor in reducing the infant mortality rate in the United States.

Not too shabby, right?  Three cheers for Mr. Borden!  He (and this story) are the reason I am doggedly brand-loyal when it comes to my sweetened condensed milk (and no, they’re not paying me to say that.)

Whatever brand you buy, I recommend you get yourself some sweetened condensed milk and make a key lime pie.  It tastes exactly the way summer should.

KEY LIME PIE
Serves 8-10, or just me & Arianne

I promise that going through the effort of juicing your own limes (and key limes, at that) is so very worth it for this pie.  This time of year, little mesh bags of key limes (also sometimes called Persian limes) are available pretty cheaply, and their fragrance & taste are just on a whole different level.

To get maximum juice out of each lime, I recommend microwaving the limes in a bowl for about thirty seconds and then rolling them on the counter before slicing them open.  If you have leftover lime juice, might I suggest you make some margaritas?

For the crust: 545719496_dsc_0285

1 ½ cup graham cracker crumbs
(store bought works, but the homemade kind tends not to resemble sawdust as much)

6 T butter, melted

¼ cup sugar (double if you want a sweet crust)

pan: 9-inch pie pan
oven: 350

Combine above ingredients—if making your own graham cracker crumbs, you can mix everything in the food processor.  Otherwise, a bowl & spoon should work!  Press mixture into the pan, being sure to move up the sides.  Bake crust for 5-8 minutes, until you smell its graham crackery-goodness all over your kitchen.  Be sure not to over bake as the crust can easily turn dark.

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For the filling:

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks

2/3 cup key lime juice

zest of 2-3 limes (2 T), finely chopped

Beat the yolks and zest in the bowl of a stand mixer for a few minutes on high speed until the yolks lighten in color and texture.  Pour in condensed milk slowly and continue mixing at high speed—the mixture should thicken quickly.  Lower the speed to add the lime juice, mixing slowly until just combined.

Pour filling into the crust, lick the spatula (optional), and bake the pie for 8-10 minutes.  You want the filling to set—that means no jiggling in the middle when you give the pan a shake.  Cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate.

I like to throw my key lime pie in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes before I plan to serve it.  Yummy!  Like so many desserts, this one is especially good with homemade whipped cream.

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